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A section from

‘A Jedi shall not know hatred, nor fear… nor love.’ from Star Wars Episode II






'Johnny didn't run,

Johnny got his gun.'

- Rulah Rah, from the soundtrack of Derailed.


After reading this book you will say one of two things. If you hated it you’d say that the story is too clichéd. If you loved it you’d say the story is time-tested. I’d recommend it because for all the clichés it is difficult to put this book down. And the un-put-down-ability commences with a quotation - So now, he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man. (Refer to the Jacqueline Kennedy sidebar)


The story starts off with a post graduation trip to Cambodia, and the adventure begins once the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot run over the country. Johnny (or Nick as he is known for the better part of the novel) has no special abilities or military training or secret alpha-male vocation; but his resilience keeps him alive and sane through all his trials.


Johnny’s time with the Khmer Rouge regime is the most intense of the book and it influences him most because of the memento he is left ‘with’. He a straightforward character and you don’t have to delve too deep to access his psyche; and that isn't why this book was written in any case.  Johnny crosses the world, takes up a number of vocations, makes loyal friends, marries a good woman, has an astute business sense and is altruistic and self-effacing. However tragedy doesn't escape him, and this to an extent is a result of his versatility and success.


The influence of Forest Gump and Ulysses on the writing become apparent very quickly but don’t take anything away from the novelty of the narrative. Like the story of Ulysses who is fighting his way home with his wit, Johnny is searching for home and making his way using his adaptability. His Buddhist teacher who extracted him from the jaws of self-destruction after Cambodia made a deep impact which is apparent from Johnny’s Zen outlook in dealing with circumstance and adversity.


Nevertheless it would be misleading to say that this book preaches non-violence; the book leaves you with one lesson - be good or be careful, but don’t be too careful. The journey ends with redemption - with a simple falling in place of a few small but significant relationships, outlooks and revelations.


Post Script: For writing this book gives Mr. Karan Bajaj a promotion - he’s gone from being the Rakhi Sawant of Indian literature  to Akshay Kumar. Read the author’s interview at the end of the book to know what we’re talking about.


Karan Bajaj is a fan of Mohsin Hamid’s writing. Check out Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke review on this site.




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“Now, I think that I should have known that he was magic all along. I did know it - but I should have guessed that it would be too much to ask to grow old with and see our children grow up together. So now, he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.”


Jacqueline Kennedy’s words on the death of her husband - JFK.



Picture: Wikipedia

Ulysses was one of Homer’s most enduring character’s. Cunning, intelligent & sometimes cruel. Homer’s Odyssey chronicles his tumultuous journey home after the Trojan War.